Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts
AN ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS OF Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, for the Masters of Fine Arts degree in English, presented on March 25, 2009, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: GHOST GEAR MAJOR PROFESSOR: Professor Judy Jordan Ghost Gear is an account of my childhood experiences growing up in a working class neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee. Coming from a family of intellectuals (my father was a Professor at Vanderbilt University and my mother was a Special Education teacher and Political Consultant) and from a family that did not attend church, I was at all times integrated and yet separated from the other people living in my neighborhood. The neighborhood itself was fractured, made up of white, black, working collar, impoverished, and single-parent families. It was situated just north of Interstate 40, just south of an upper class neighborhood, just west of the projects, and just east of the city limits. All of these influences came together in Sylvan Park when I was a child, creating a hostile environment where kids roamed the streets and alleys, fathers worked overtime at the nearby Ford Glass Plant, and I spent much of my time avoiding other kids, hiding out at Richland Creek or in the abandoned train yards. For many years I blamed my father for buying our house in Sylvan Park three weeks after I was born. He knew what kind of environment he was buying into, and he made it clear to me from day one that learning to live in a middle/lower class setting would be good for me. To supplement my experiences there, he often took me fishing, camping, hiking, rock climbing, and caving at the various locations just outside of Nashville. When we would go on these excursions into "the wild," or so he called it, he'd tell stories of his own childhood: a near drowning by a tidal wave on the Aleutian Chain, a near snake bite in the black willow swamps of Shreveport, Louisiana, sleeplessness at the hands of a science fiction radio-story, another near drowning at Lost Creek Cave, and, finally, the first time his son caught a trout. These stories in many ways framed my growing up and created who I am today: a man bifurcated, a man at once middle and lower class, a man at once the scared little boy hiding from bullies and the man who exists now without any fear in the face of a fight. The poems that have emerged from this self are of two separate sorts. First, there are the autobiographical poems that work to display the neighborhood I grew up in, the characters who played a major part in that landscape, and the oftentimes tragic events that took place in those surroundings. I call these poems the "citied south" poems. The second sort of poem that comes from this time, what I call the "father story poems" form the basic structure of the book, telling the stories my father told me as a child while, at the same time, narrating my experience with these stories and how they helped make me who I am. In each section of the book, one of these poems appears, creating the arc of the narrative of my life, especially when bounced off the "citied south" poem that accompany them. Taken together, Ghost Gear hopes to speak to human kindness in the face of immense hate, frustration, and overwork. These poems also hope to show how I have forgiven both that neighborhood and my father's decision to live there through the writing of poetry itself.
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